Upon arriving at The Media Club with fifty minutes until the show, I encountered a sizeable line. We were all waiting to see Marlon Williams, backed by the Yarra Benders. Williams is a folksy-bluegrass singer from New Zealand, only 24 years old. His solid background in choir reaffirms his ability to hit the lofty notes he sets before himself.
More than 90% of the audience looked 30 and above, some seeming to reach their 50s and 60s. I couldn’t find a single empty seat. Jackets and purses were strategically placed around the short booths. These folks clearly knew how to ensure themselves comfort.
Being one of the youngest people there – and being unable to sit – lead me to feel very out of place. I gravitated toward the only two other people that seemed to be around 20. We formed a clump and exchanged pleasantries. They’d come all the way from Washington to see Williams. One of them was pretty enamored with him, but hadn’t been able to hear much by Williams prior to the concert, as only a few songs were available in the U.S. They were also surprised by the audience’s age; the bartender agreed, remarking: “I’ve never served such an old crowd, and that’s all I’m going to say.”
The lights dimmed, then illuminated a woman with bangs and a sweet smile: Shelley Short. This Portland native was perfectly twee. Endearing without being annoying, she reminded me of Zooey Deschanel 7 years ago. Her voice is distinctly high pitched but still solid and unwavering in delivery. She sang some haunting folk songs from the 1870s and a few obscure folk songs. In Short, great opener.
After the mid-show shuffling of performers, Marlon Williams took to the stage with his 4 piece crew. He commanded the cozy venue with his melodious voice and tall stature. He probably could have pressed his palms against the ceiling if he’d tried.
The band’s sound was honest and raw, but still fully baked. The twangy guitar and upright bass took a comfortable backseat to Williams’ powerful vocals, slowly enunciating each lyric. Some songs were about relationships (“I know you’ve seen it all before / But you haven’t seen the lonely side of her”), but some were more abstract: “Looking in from the outside / Couldn’t see this truth / You’ve been given too much time.”
As the concert progressed, the other youths and I played detective. Apparently, Marlon Williams performed at last year’s Vancouver Folk Fest. That helped to explain the many well-dressed yet down-to-earth looking older people.
Incidentally, one of the songs was about “intergenerational miscommunication”. There was certainly a factor of intergenerationalism right in the venue, but, I was pleased to find, little miscommunication. By the end, my fellow youths and I agreed that being surrounded by older people was surprisingly enjoyable. Unlike some shows where everyone is sizing everyone else up, the audience was focused on simply enjoying the music and each other’s company. Most of the people around us had probably stopped caring about looking cool before we were born.
Slowly, the band finished their set, then hopped back up for the encore. The second to last song was a slow and pleasant one that held everyone in a sleepy trance. Then, just as the crowd began to lull, they launched into a propulsive number that kicked up the energy once more. Williams freed the mic of its stand and swung his arms through the air, almost touching the ceiling a number of times. The crowd fed off his inspired gusto. As Williams’ set came to a close, the crowd applauded one more time. Grinning faces and sustained clapping suggested that the crowd was quite satisfied. The boys jumped off the stage once more, and the lights went on.
It was unifying to see all the satiated faces suddenly lit up, all inspired by Williams’ heartfelt set. Though the night had started a tad uneasily, it had bloomed into a soulful experience that united many – and spanned age gaps.
Follow Marlon Williams on their tour here.